Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Review
By Dwayne Baird |
Although I never played much of the pen-and-paper version, I've loads of fun with computerized D&D over the years, particularly Baldur's Gate. But Stormreach is set in Eberron, not the Forgotten Realms. The emphasis is on fantastical architecture, a new slew of factions and on Stomreach itself, a huge port city with perhaps an even huger warren of caves, tunnels and catacombs. There might be as many denizens living below ground as above. Or unliving.
DDO also hews closely to the license rule set; you'll get dice rolls for every combat action, the d20 damage and armor system for judging gear quality, and the classes we've come to know and love, plus the Warforged. These juggernauts differ from their brethren by requiring repairs instead of heals. A mage takes care of them instead of a cleric, and they have their own potions, tools, and scrolls to restore health. And you'll want to have a cleric around in general, since the D&D system doesn't allow for health regeneration. You'll periodically come across a rest shrine during your quest, however, allowing you to get back a nice chunk of health, although each shrine can only be used once.
You also use these to resurrect party members. And thankfully, the death penalty is light; instead of doing a corpse run, you move as a ghost back to the shrine, although someone has to get your resurrection stone from your body and take it back to the shrine. And if you get too far away from this person while your ghosted, your health can go into the negative numbers. It can be an frustratingly short leash sometimes, and there isn't a clear indication of which party member is carrying your stone. There's also a full screen death effect that can make it difficult to navigate, although reducing the quality of the visuals will mitigate this.
Speaking of visuals, DDO is a good-looking game. Character models have lots of detail and the varied gear looks pretty neat. Only your helm and your chest piece affect your armor's appearance, which may be a disappointment to players of other RPGs and MMOs. But the outfits look good in their own right and this allows everything to match. It does take some beefy hardware to run DDO at its maximum settings, however. I'd recommend at least a GeForce 6800GT or Radeon X850 if you want the game to look nice. If that's not an option, the game offers a multitude of settings to tweak to your liking. Don't know what stencil shadows are? Don't worry. Hovering the mouse over an option brings up a tooltip with a brief explanation and recommendation. I don't have a boatload of screenshots, unfortunately, because my game rig crashed and burned on account of an unrelated hardware issue.
The screenshots here are taken with an X1900XT running at Very High settings, although I recommend notching it down to High or running at a lower resolution when you're in a large room or near a large body of water. The aquatic effects are pretty, but taxing. Graphically, DDO feels built for the future, and it shows when you enable all the bells and whistles. However, I was able to run the game on High at 1280x1024 (LCD) with a 6800GT with no noticeable slowdown. I'll be adding screenshots I took with that system later on. To be honest, I can't see a significant visual difference between High and Very High, but the game seems to go a lot smoother at the lower setting.
At any rate, the architecture of Stormreach is quite varied, both on the surface and in the dungeons, and it feels like a real city. The interface feels clean, and you can click and drag almost any window to get things the way you want them. Below ground, you get all manner of environments. There is no generic dungeon scheme in Stormreach. Spider lairs, underground cities, mushroom caves, and catacombs abound. Sometimes the area will be small, sometimes huge, and sometimes in between. To find out, all you need to do is click on the entrance. It will tell you the recommended character level, the name of the dungeon, and a description of the quest. Here you can also choose from three levels of difficulty, but you have to play the first mode to unlock the other two. Many quests are also repeateable if you find a dungeon you particularly like, or there's no one around to do the quests you haven't done.
Speaking of quests, the party search system is pretty well done. Unlike World of Warcraft, which gives you nothing more than a chat channel that spans across three cities, the party grouping system is an actual system. Just hit O to open a window where you flag yourself as Looking for Group. This immediately puts an icon over your head, and you'll show up in the list of people automatically. You can also add a message of what types of quests you're looking for. It's a very fast way to put a group together, as you can see what class the person is and what level they are. If you're the party leader, you can also go with the Looking for Members option, which allows you to select what level ranges and class types you want to advertise to. I've never had to wait more than ten minutes to get in a group, and I don't have to continually spam a chat channel.
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to do while waiting to get in a group for a dungeon. There's no crafting, no player-versus-player combat, no random monsters to beat up, and no auction house. This is true to D&D -- I won't deny that. But in an MMO environment, it can lead to a lot of thumb twiddling. There really is nothing to do. You can turn in some dungeon drops to collectors (more on that in a minute), repair your gear, sell your spoils of war to a vendor, and look for more quests. Other than that, there isn't really any actual game to play. You can't go into a dungeon on your own, unless it's small and you're at least one level above the requirement. But in this situation, it's over quickly and you don't get a lot of experience points. D&D's party- and dungeon-oriented system just doesn't slide smoothly into the MMO model.